Later that afternoon, Pastor Togba was expecting another guest from America. The guest was coming from Maryland in the United States. The little church that was hosting this pastor was just about one mile down the road from Maranatha Baptist where Pastor Togba was the pastor. Like many small congregations, they did not have a facility for their guest to stay, so had enquired as to whether Pastor Togba and his family would allow this man to be a guest in his home to which he graciously agreed. While the little church was charismatic in nature, Pastor Togba and his dear wife were very gracious and counted it a privilege to open their home to strangers.
A special project that had begun the night before was being concluded when we arrived. A unique custom found in parts of Africa is for the congregation to give an offering to purchase whitewash. As a sign of honor to their coming guest, many within the congregation would gather at the home where the guest would stay and completely whitewash the concrete or mud-brick home.
This small congregation had purchased what they could probably not really afford. They had then walked and worked in the oppressive heat just to make Pastor Togba’s home look a little nicer and cleaner with the new whitewash.
The day had finally arrived for their guest to arrive. Food and cool bottles of water waited on the table, and after two days of working to whitewash the house, the congregation stood patiently under the porch for their guest. The time for his arrival came and quickly went and still they waited. It was beginning to grow dark as the preacher finally made his appearance about three hours late! And it was definitely a dramatic appearance!
The only explanation for his lateness was that they had stopped by one of the hotels frequented by groups like the UN to get something to eat. However, what certainly caught my attention is that this man looked like he was headed to a fancy dress party. He had a number of rings on some of which had diamonds and thick chains of gold hung around his neck.
Introducing himself, his actions and words smacked of arrogance as he met the congregation that had requested him to come as their guest preacher. He was a black preacher, who claimed to be an African, although he made it clear that this was his first trip to Africa.
Walking inside and looking over the meager food supply, he reminded us again that he already eaten a “good dinner” at the hotel and was not hungry. Some of the church leaders had walked inside with their guest and a few of them were obviously dismayed that what they had paid for was not considered to be a worthy gift.
I, for one, was not impressed. In fact, I was embarrassed for a number of reasons. First, these people who were poverty stricken had given above and beyond what they could in order to honor and provide for their guest. Second, this man who had come to the second poorest nation from what is unarguably the richest was doing nothing more than flaunting his wealth.
The rest of us sat down to eat and gave thanks for the provisions and enjoyed a great meal. The guest preacher had moved down the hallway and had proceeded to complain about how hot it was. Not a few minutes later, he came back to the dining room and grabbed a bottle of the cool water. Sitting down in an empty chair, he opened it and without bothering to ask if anybody else would like some, he poured himself a full glass.
Drinking it down, he refills and repeats the process several times until the bottle was almost empty. Looking over at Pastor Togba, his next question was wondering why the electricity was not on because he needed to use a fan to cool down and also to get his computer up and running because he had to do some work!
The rest of the evening was spent with him complaining about Pastor Togba not being willing to run his generator all night just so he could have a fan and computer usage. If it wasn’t about the lack of electricity, it was about something else. The bottled water wasn’t cold enough for him so the church leaders went and bought some ice. He didn’t like the “no-running water” situation, and the list just kept on and on.
In the midst of this, the man who picked this guest preacher up from the airport came back a little while after dark. Sizing up the situation, he told his new-found friend that he would be happy to take him to one of the local hotels that catered to Western tastes. The rest of us were just dumbfounded at the affront to the local congregation, but he just seemed oblivious to everything but his own wants.
I finally went to bed and wondered whether I was going to have the disservice of meeting up with this man who was playing the part of a fool. The next morning was another early day to rise and we were all more than a little relieved that the guest from Maryland was no longer present. We knew he would have to return though because all of his suitcases were still in the room. Pastor Togba informed us the man had left late the previous night without a word of thanks or whether he would be returning and at what time.
Later that morning, the little congregation gathered back at Pastor Togba’s house stating they wanted to meet and speak with their honored guest. We informed them he had not given any details as to what he was planning. Throughout the day, the congregation remained in little shifts waiting for their preacher to return but their wait proved futile until late Thursday afternoon around 5:30pm when we were sitting down for our evening meal.
The front door opened and in walked the preacher from Maryland. He sat down at the table and helped himself to some water just as he had done the night before, then proceeded to tell us that he would be leaving the house as soon as he could get packed.
As he was neither my guest nor was I his host, I had resolved not to say anything about his appalling behavior or his gaudy, extravagant attire. At that particular moment, he had as many rings on as he had upon his arrival and sitting right next to me, it was hard to miss the size of the jewels encrusted in the rings. However, that was not what really caught my attention that evening. The Maryland man was wearing the largest item around his neck I had ever seen.
The item looked like a large iron spike railroad workers use to keep the rails in place. However, it was not iron, but 7-8 inches in length completely covered in bright gold with a gold chain as thick as a man’s finger. Not leaving well enough alone, I asked him what that was hanging around his neck. I knew what it resembled but I wanted to hear from him exactly what it meant.
Me: “May I ask what that is hanging around your neck?”
Maryland: “Ah, you know, man!”
Me: “If I knew what it meant, then I would not have asked you.”
Raising a finger to the sky, Maryland responded in a very condescending tone, “Did it to him, man!”
Me: “I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?”
Maryland: “They did it to my Lord in heaven!”
Me: “Pardon my ignorance, but I am not sure what the largest gold object I have ever seen has to do with the Lord in heaven.”
Looking at me for a moment, Maryland responded, “My Lord Jesus was nailed to the cross by three spikes and I wear this to share my belief with others.”
One of the others at the table remarked, “That is one of the strangest ways to share your faith when we are commanded in the Scriptures to speak the truth in love.”
Maryland replied, “You shouldn’t be disrespecting what I am wearing as a testimony to others. I came here to preach to these people about the love of God and how they can experience more of God.”
My response was to ask him the same questions I had been asking all the other so-called preachers during my visit.
“Sir, if you were to die tonight and stood before God, what would you say to Him so that you might gain entrance into heaven? What is it that you belief and teach to others so that they also may have hope of eternal life?”
Maryland’s response was almost identical to the words given by the three preachers who had sought to dupe me. It was a brief statement filled with how good he was and that he tried to love God and others. So, I decided to test that belief.
“In the short time since arriving, what have you done to help these poor people?”
He responded that it was nobody’s business what he was doing and that he was through being asked a lot of questions about his beliefs. “God will let me into heaven after all I do for Him!”
Standing from the table, I pushed the envelope one more time and asked him if he had informed Pastor Togba that he was leaving. I also asked if he had informed the congregation who had been there throughout the day of his decision to go to a Westernized hotel in order to have the nicer things of life while his hosts struggled.
Maryland became hostile at that point and replied, “Man, you have no idea what I have given up in order to come here! My being here is a sacrifice to God so I can tell others how to have a better life that God wants them to have!”
With that he wheeled around and headed to his room. Silence reigned around the dining room table as we all pondered his responses, while listening to him pack all of his bags and complaining about the way he was being treated. At that point, a knock at the door was answered to reveal two of the people from the little congregation. We told them their guest had returned but that he was leaving again to go stay in a hotel. They responded that they had not known this, but would talk to the man.
They walked the few steps to the man’s room and asked what was going on. He responded that he needed to have certain things that Pastor Togba’s house did not have available, and therefore would be going to a hotel.
Without asking, he then commanded, “Grab some of those bags and take them outside for me.”
Gracious to the end, they picked up the bags and walked out past the rest of us still seated at the dining room table. Standing to my feet, I asked the others to excuse me and walked over to the room where Maryland was finishing his bags.
Me: “I think we need to talk!”
Maryland was almost shouting as he responded: “Nothin’ to say to you and I’m leaving! I have never been so mistreated in my life! I am an African-American and I have more of a right to be here than you do.”
Me: “I have no intention of asking you any more questions, but there are a few things I believe are very important for you to understand. First, you are an utter embarrassment in three areas. As a preacher, you seek to define the ministry by your own greed. As an American, you come over and flaunt your wealth in an extremely poor country. As one who claims to be African-American, you have no idea the true nature of these people who have become very special to me in a very short time. Second, the greed that consumes you is not helping your hosts who have done far more than you will ever realize, and they did it for you out of the abundance of their poverty.”
I continued, “You came here with a preconceived idea of what life is about in Africa, but you do not have a clue. You mock those who live here by your lack of thankfulness and by your very actions you show that the testimony you claim to have is not valid. The sufferings you have supposedly suffered pales into insignificance with that these people have gone through, yet you have the audacity to come with all your gold and think that Liberians ‘owe’ you something.”
Maryland was livid and tried to interrupt, but I concluded, “The best thing you could ever do for these people whom you have shown great disrespect to would be to get back on the first plane out of Liberia and back to America. When you get back, tell the people in your church what you have done to bring disrespect on them by your actions, then I would highly recommend you spend time on your face before a holy, righteous God and plead for mercy while repenting of your sins. You do not deserve the love these people have shown you and you do not deserve to call yourself a minister of the gospel.”
“One final note, the true Lord Jesus Christ was NOT nailed to the cross with golden spikes. He was nailed there with three probably rusty spikes, and it is from that cross that He commands true believers to pick up their cross and follow Him. It is a not a bed of roses, a life of ease, or even about wearing gold to prove we belong to Him. If that golden spike is all you have for your testimony, you have no testimony and you have nothing to give these wonderful Liberian people!”
Trying to keep my utter dismay and indignation in check, I turned and left the room. Heading back into the dining room, I realized that my pastor friends had heard every word. I apologized for not being more discreet, but that I had said what I believed was necessary. Indicating that I was finished with my food, I stated that I wanted to go outside for awhile.
Opening the door, I stepped out into the presence of about 20 members of the congregation who also had obviously heard what I had to say to the preacher from Maryland.
(…to be continued…)